Currently we find ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic, COVID-19, causing widespread fear, anxiety and panic arising to levels unseen before for numerous people. Living through this crisis is going to require us to act effectively with skillful means; stepping into new ways of processing our thoughts and emotions; ultimately allowing our behaviors to evolve into solution focused ways of being in the world. We can do our part by being smart and following the guidelines set in place for our safety and by maintaining, even enhancing our best emotional, physical and spiritual health during this time.
Many people are feeling off-balance, myself included, and so it’s understandable that we’ll reach toward some “information” that feeds our confirmation bias in the moment, providing us with the comfort we so desperately crave to feel. Oftentimes our search leads us, or keeps us, in our comfortable echo chambers of news or social media streams that again, confirm what it is that we want to hear. However, the ultimate truth right now is vague and uncertain, so finding the middle ground in this information overload is even more crucial in order to gain insight and equilibrium.
Our emotions are necessary guideposts in life’s journey – they are essential to tap into and reflect the larger message of what we’re experiencing in the present moment. Equally important is our rational, logical and fact-based mind which is here to balance us when the emotional mind becomes inflamed and over-reactive, oftentimes causing us undo stress and pain. Where these two intersect is called Wise-Mind, a construct within Dialectical Behavioral Therapy that validates our experience while at the same time grounds us in rationality in order to make the best decisions.
In this time of viral contagion we must be aware of emotional contagion.
We actually can catch other’s emotions. Emotional contagion is a real phenomenon and it refers to the subconscious “sharing” of moods among people.
Mirror neurons in our brain fire when we observe a behavior and activate the parts of our brain that reflect that behavior. Research from Facebook found that the number of positive or negative posts a user saw influenced the content of users’ future posts – evidence that emotions can be contagious even in the absence of face-to-face interaction and nonverbal cues.
Pain, fear and uncertainty can easily lead us into judgment and blame. Carl Jung said, “Thinking is difficult, that’s why most people judge.” When we don’t feel in control we will find a “bad other” to be the scapegoat. Be careful not to fall into this trap. Lately it’s disheartening to see such an increase in judgment and blame, much of it not rooted in logic or truth – mostly just emotional reactivity, posted on social media, probably making the person who shared it feel better in the short term, I suppose. Metaphorically, it makes me feel like I need to wash my hands. It’s just too contaminating!
Truth, now more than ever, is a virtue that needs to be embraced and protected. Truth needs a vessel –us! When I think of a vessel carrying the water of truth, I see it balanced yet holding the tension of both sides without spilling.
This calls for us to peer over the walls of our own silos and consider, “Do I have the complete information here or does this just fit my own narrative?”
How do we do this? Discernment.
Discernment is the process of making careful distinctions in our thinking about truth. I believe this requires some digging on our part and let’s face it, this action is not something we willingly want to do most of the time. Maybe we need to engage in conversation with someone who holds the opposite opinion and try to understand the truth of their reality? Or heaven forbid we turn the channel on our TV or news feed to see what the other side might be saying. It’s not natural for us to do this. We want, as a matter of safety and survival to remain in our own belief system or control tower. But if we want the facts we must be willing to become uncomfortable. Succinctly said in the words of Oscar Wilde, “The truth is rarely pure and never simple”.
Realizing and ultimately understanding we cannot change much of what is occurring right now leads us into acceptance. You cannot change what you do not accept. We are in a new reality – one that many want to reject or deny. However, the sooner we move into acceptance, our ability to cope increases. It certainly doesn’t require that we like it or agree; only that we accept the reality of now. Non-acceptance is a function of the egoic (false) self which will always find a way to be dissatisfied with the reality at hand.
We don’t want to feel what we don’t want to feel so we blame and lay it on the “bad other”. The egoic self uses non-acceptance to move into blame very quickly and I would add, unconsciously. It’s what Jung called the “shadow”– those aspects of the personality that we choose to reject and repress.
We blame what we feel we cannot change or control. We blame when we feel uncomfortable. We blame that which doesn’t fit our mental image of “what’s supposed to be” and so we reject that which doesn’t fit (example: the other political party, the Chinese, the media, your spouse, etc.).
What is being called for now individually and collectively is expansion; now is not the time to be small!
Expand yourself in ways that you’ve always known you need to become, but have put off for whatever reason. We all know our edge – the parts of us that need to be tweaked in order to be our best self.
Don’t waste this opportunity to do some of your best potential development. Again to quote Jung, “The best political, social and spiritual work we can do is to withdraw the projection of our shadow onto others.”
The most intelligent experts on the planet are working on solving this crisis with the thinking mind and rest assured, they will! Perhaps individually, we can contribute by healing the discord and disconnection that is present right now by managing our over-reactive emotional self. How can we do this?
- By staying in the present moment (begin/enhance a mindfulness or contemplative prayer practice)
- By operating in Wise-Mind (balance emotions with logic)
- By engaging in compassion for self and others (watch out for judgments and blame)
- By connections (reach out to others, make phone calls, donations, etc.)
- By expanding yourself (push against your comfort zone and embrace your shadow self)
Now is the time.
Leo Tolstoy said, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
Now is the time to change.
Susan Milner is a licensed mental health practitioner and life coach from the state of Nebraska where she works with a diverse population of clients assisting them in living their best life. She is a teacher in mindfulness and contemplative practices and finds the value in stillness and silence. Susan writes a weekly blog titled “The Middle Way” on her site www.3rdwaythinking.com.
Image courtesy of Brooke Cagle.